UPDATED: State board overturns Metro, authorizes Great Hearts' charter plan

Friday, July 27, 2012 at 1:19pm

Updated: 3:30 p.m.

The Tennessee State Board of Education authorized the controversial charter proposal of Great Hearts Academies Friday morning, overturning Metro’s previous denial and opening the door for Davidson County’s first charter designed explicitly to capitalize on the state’s new open enrollment law.

After 18 minutes of discussion, the nine-member state board settled a debate on racial diversity and school choice that has raged in Nashville for months. State board members voted unanimously to clear the way for Great Hearts’ first school on West Nashville’s White Bridge Road –– and shared none of the fears of “segregation” that the Metro school board cited when rejecting its proposal twice before.

“We’re very happy with the decision,” said Dan Scoggin, CEO of Phoenix-based Great Hearts, which is planning to open the new Nashville charter during the 2014-15 school year. It will be the group’s first charter outside Arizona where it has 15.

“We hope we can get beyond that type of polarizing debate as soon as possible,” he added when asked about the contentious nature of his school’s proposal. “We want to be a part of the district. We want to be a part of the public education landscape in Nashville.”

The state board’s action –– the second time it has overturned a charter rejection by Metro in two years –– redirects Great Hearts’ proposal back to the Metro board whereby the higher board has ordered the local body to hand Great Hearts final authorization. The Metro board’s final vote will come at its next meeting in August.

Alan Coverstone, executive director of Metro’s Office of Innovation, said MNPS is “disappointed” by the outcome, adding that he felt the board seemed to largely agree with Metro’s reasoning “yet still forced us to take action at our next meeting to approve the school in spite of those reasons.”

The state board’s approval is contingent on Great Hearts meeting three criteria that are already spelled out in state and local law: Great Hearts adopt a diversity plan that “mirrors” the district’s diversity plan for choice schools (which doesn’t have to include busing for transportation, state officials say, though Scoggin insists it will); the charter group hire licensed teachers; and the Metro board authorize just one Great Hearts school instead of its original plans for five.

“Essentially, this is an open-enrollment school, a choice school,” said the state board’s Executive Director Gary Nixon, who recommended overturning Metro’s rejection. “It’s not very different, or different at all, from the choice-schools Metro operates.”

Tennessee Education Commission Kevin Huffman advised Metro officials Friday to adopt an “expedited” process for the eventual approval of Great Hearts’ entire portfolio of five locations, which it has planned for different communities within Davidson County. He didn’t define the parameters of that process.

Officials from Great Hearts arrived in Nashville last winter following a push from parents in affluent parts of West Nashville searching for more options in place of struggling zoned schools, expensive private schools and academic magnet schools with long waiting lists.

It was met with criticism from opponents who suggested Great Hearts would establish a racially homogenous, white upper class school. Historically, Nashville’s charter schools have served economically disadvantage students. A new state law, however, has opened eligibility to all students regardless of income.

From the outset, the Great Hearts proposal became politically charged. Huffman on multiple occasions informed Metro officials of his desire for local school-board approval of Great Hearts’ plan. Mayor Karl Dean later expressed his support for Great Hearts, urging the state board to upend Metro’s rejection in a letter last week.

On hand for Friday’s vote was investor Bill DeLoache, a charter backer who served on the original “West Nashville Charter Steering Committee” that originated the Great Hearts push. Wendy Tucker, the mayor’s chief education advisor, was also present. Both declined comment.

In a letter Director of Schools Jesse Register fired off to the state board Thursday, Metro’s superintendent took exception with Nixon’s analysis for approving Great Hearts. Among other points, Register argued Great Hearts is applying one year early for a 2014 opening, and that Great Hearts’ diversity plans at its Arizona schools have resulted in “segregation.” He included a graph that shows the majority of Great Hearts schools are 70 percent white.

But a state attorney said charter applicants are permitted a one-year delay, thus authorizing Great Hearts to open in 2014. State board members did not directly speak to the racial composition of Great Hearts’ existing schools –– or the school’s track record at all.

“They did not seem to address the issues,” Coverstone concluded.

One state board member mistakenly referred to “Great Schools” in discussing Great Hearts’ plan. None of the nine members alluded to specific diversity concerns that Metro officials have raised. Instead, state members argued that Great Hearts is nothing more than another “choice school.”

State board member Lonnie Roberts pointed out that Metro’s Charter Review Committee recommended approval of Great Hearts, but Coverstone’s office nonetheless reached a different conclusion. “That’s what I don’t understand,” Roberts said.

Nixon had echoed those same sentiments in his recommendation: “If MNPS is going to utilize a committee to evaluate an application, go to great lengths to train the committee, and hold its process up as the ‘Gold Standard’ of processes, it should trust the committee’s recommendation and process 100 percent.”

Coverstone said Nixon does a “great job” in his role, but raised objections nevertheless: “It’s just very difficult in one hour to evaluate the complexities of a three-month process. We just think he got it wrong on the committee issues.”

The Great Hearts’ decision could set a precedent, and perhaps encourage others to apply for charter schools in Nashville that could feed demand from middle and upper class parents.

Coverstone suggested the state’s Great Hearts decision could set an example in a different way. “Local districts are losing the ability to use charter schools collaboratively and positively to increase student outcomes,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been doing.

“We’re not a district that has been standing in the way of charters. And the notion that we should not be given the benefit of the doubt in making those decisions is weakening our ability to guide that process.”


18 Comments on this post:

By: ChrisMoth on 7/27/12 at 11:46

This has been a wonderful discussion. Thanks to everyone who participated. Congratulations to those who supported Great Hearts. Thanks to our State leaders.

I am glad the matter has been settled, and I accept the wisdom and vision of the State Board, the Governor, and the Tennessee Legislature.

With the State Board's decision, we now finally know, with certainty, that students across Nashville will experience better outcomes when higher scoring students are separated from lower scoring populations.

Let's joins together and finish the process that our visionary civic leaders have boldy started.

Let's create several more Hume Fogg-type schools (ACT score 26 and higher) by eliminating busing to segregated zoned (non-lottery) high schools in our wealthier neighborhoods.

With the new wave of School Board members coming in backed by SuccessPAC, this vote will be a slam dunk. By getting to work right away, our new schools can open in 2013.

How do we get this decision onto the August School Board agenda?

Thanks agan to our state leaders for your vision and leadership.

Chris Moth, 2020 Overhill Dr

By: pswindle on 7/27/12 at 11:57

Metro/Nashville School Board should take this to a higher level. What have local school boards if they have no power?
Chris you want to have private schools with public money. Of course, the pick and choose students will have high TCAP scores. The cards will be dealt in the school's favor.

By: Bellevue on 7/27/12 at 12:15

Took the state board only 18 minutes to see through that mist of self serving paranoia forwarded by the Metropolitan School Board.

Diversity takes second place to providing a more positive learning environment for ALL students. Everyone does not have the same capacity relative to all levels of academism. That's exactly why we have plumbers / electricians and doctors / lawyers.

Oh, by the way pswindle, charter schools are publicly funded.

By: MNPSParent on 7/27/12 at 12:15

Pswindle, I can assure you that Chris Moth's comments are completely sarcastic, pointing out the absurdity of this decision.

By: ChrisMoth on 7/27/12 at 12:36

MNPSParent: Gary Nixon is calling Great Hearts a "first shot" and he is actively encouraging more similar Charter applications. http://wpln.org/?p=39890

Personally, I would have preferred that the State Board demanded increased focus on our zoned schools. But, this is a representative Democracy, and we must must accept the wisdom of our leaders for our nation to function.

In the new zeitgeist, I'm confident that if we do not qiuckly convert public high schools in our wealthy neighborhoods to GreatHearts/Hume-Fogg like entities, we will soon lose them entirely.

If you see any other path ahead other than embracing the wisdom of our State leaders (short of moving out of state), do let Nashville know.


Chris Moth, 2020 Overhill Dr

By: CitizensWin on 7/27/12 at 1:00

Follow the Money.

Sign the Petitions



Vote at the Polls.

"Kevin Huffman advised Metro officials adopt an “expedited” process for the eventual approval of Great Hearts’ entire portfolio of five locations."

ADVISED is not legally binding.

Stop This Now. School board meets in August. It will be interesting to see if they rollover or rule over decision. Don't count on Dean's legal department. They are bought and paid for right down to the in-house charter advocate who lives in Williamson County.

By: InterestedObserver2 on 7/27/12 at 1:46

Did anyone else read the paper this morning detailing the TCAP performance of the various middle TN counties? I think Davidson County results speak for themselves. What did Einstein say the definition of insanity was? Something to the effect of "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Well, as a family with 4 children, we don't have time for the same thing being done over and over again. As the TCAP scores demonstrate, we need different results for our children now. To get those results, I should not have to move to Williamson County or pay private school tuition. Let's all hope that for the sake of our childrens' educations that Great Hearts and other Charters can accomplish in years what Metro has been unable to accomplish in decades.

By: ChrisMoth on 7/27/12 at 1:48

Why do GHA's most vocal detractors cower behind a pseudonyms?

The battle has been lost. Let's all step out of the shadows, and acknowledge that the more profound ideas of higher State leadership have ruled the day.

We need to do a better job of uniting to have any hope at the battles ahead.

Without public disclosure, GHA was able to spend (I'm admittedly guessing) ~$100Ks (of AZ taxpayer dollars - even if indirectly) on PR firms, flights for Nashvillians to visit Arizona, and a cup of coffee for me (Thanks, AZ). Moreover, under TN state law, without public disclosure they were able to offer 25 advance places in their charter school to "sponsors" who got out in front in lobbying for them (It's all in their application).

A $25,000,000 per year revenue stream for me to them is a wonderful return on their investment. I applaud their business acumen.

We've spent $65 on a website, and only had the power of the pen, logic, and the web.

We did pretty well on a shoestring, but we lost. We have to be better if the the next Chapter of this story is to end better for our children.

I see Diane Neighbors signed our peition today. That's great - but the timing is not exactly ideal. Won't someone in our government finally stand up for Nashville at this juncture? Concerned citizens have about done all we can do. And, we've lost. - in 18 minutes flat.

If any of our city leaders feel there is any hope for a Chapter 2, know that all of us stand ready and willing to engage with you. Meanwhile, we welcome Great Hearts, and we must assume that we are now in a very new, new reality, for public education in Nashville.

Thanks everyone for trying.

Chris Moth, 2020 Overhill Dr

By: JeffF on 7/27/12 at 1:54

I am not up on this since there is no way I would send my kids to a MNPS, but the point many of seem to be trying to make is that it is wrong that kids who can do better are not required to stay in public schools in order to keep their numbers up? Only poor and underperforming kids should be allowed the opportunity to maybe get something better thus keeping the charters form looking too good?

By: CitizensWin on 7/27/12 at 4:03

'Wendy Tucker, the mayor’s chief education advisor, was also present. Both declined comment"

Seeing how these two were the ones most hell bent on overriding the elected school board's decision, they should be ashamed of themselves as public servants and lawyers. No wonder they can't say anything. They don't have to.

But guess what?

The School Board does not have to accept this recommendation in August.

Stay Tuned.....

By: spooky22 on 7/27/12 at 10:58

You are so Nashville if: Your district's school board candidate received more PAC money than your Congressional candidate. Which is laughable, considering that thanks to the precedent of the State Board of Education, aided and abetted by our own Mayor, your school board rep has no real power to speak of.

By: Vuenbelvue on 7/28/12 at 11:47

Spooky22 Just tell the 30% or less who will vote Aug 3rd not to vote for anyone sponsored by law firms or endorsed by the Mayors office or the Nashville Chamber of Commerce.
If someone is going to vote they better go to Nashville.gov to the Election Commission and print a copy of a ballot and try to figure out who the candidates are in their neighborhood or should I say their street. The State Legislation with it finally getting a republican speaker of the house gerrymandered the districts up so cleverly it is hard to decipher.

By: pswindle on 7/29/12 at 1:29

When the for profit charter schools walk off with Metro's money, then what?

By: Ingleweird on 7/30/12 at 8:44

So, the state is interested in helping private businesses to fleece local governments of tax funds? Is the TN Greed Over People party interested in subsidizing Nashville's operating budget? I only ask because these "small government" folks sure spen a lot of time telling us how to manage our own goddamn business!

By: JeffF on 7/30/12 at 8:56

"When the for profit charter schools walk off with Metro's money, then what?"

I would think we would tell them to send back pictures of them posing with the public school people who have spent the last 40 years walking off with Metro's money.

I am amazed to see some of the people who think it was okay to spend hundreds of millions on the play things of the private hospitality businesses do not think it is a good idea to do the same thing for private education and corrections interests (not aimed at you pswindle).

By: JeffF on 7/30/12 at 8:56

"When the for profit charter schools walk off with Metro's money, then what?"

I would think we would tell them to send back pictures of them posing with the public school people who have spent the last 40 years walking off with Metro's money.

I am amazed to see some of the people who think it was okay to spend hundreds of millions on the play things of the private hospitality businesses do not think it is a good idea to do the same thing for private education and corrections interests (not aimed at you pswindle).

By: pswindle on 7/30/12 at 12:04

Metro/Nashville School Board, You are elected officers, you have made a decision, now stick to it. If you let the State made decisions like this, you may as well walk away, you are finished.

By: Specter47 on 8/6/12 at 3:25

This is just another case where the state is telling Metro what they should have done in the first place. The bigotted Metro School Board and Alan Coverstone and his Master Jesse Register have an aversion towards successful education models. Great Hearts has a history of success and they just can't stand the thought! Great Hearts won't participate in redistribution of wealth, but opens the doors to all kids of all races and economic status. Awesome.